What do Fifth Harmony and the Big Ten Conference have in common? Both names include numbers that no longer correspond to the groups they represent.
Last December, Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello decided to part ways with the group. In an interview with Girls‘ Lena Dunham, Cabello said one of the reasons she left was because she wasn’t comfortable with the band’s increasingly sexualized image. “Unfortunately, sex sells,” she said. “There’s definitely been times where there’s stuff that I have not been comfortable with and I’ve had to put my foot down.”
Cabello did just that when she metaphorically stomped out of the group. And in her absence, well, not much has changed—besides the number of singers in the group.
“Bridges” is the only song on the band’s third album that doesn’t focus on sexual or romantic relationships. Instead, it delivers a plea for unity in our politically polarized times. “We build bridges/Oh, we build bridges/No, we won’t separate/We know love can conquer hate.” We also hear, “All I pray is we break our chains/Because love’s worth fighting for.”
On “Lonely Night,” a woman demonstrates self-respect by telling her guy, “If you don’t treat ya’ mama right, bye-bye, bye-bye.” “Don’t Say You Love Me” calls out a smooth-talking cad for the gap between his big promises and his inability to deliver on them (“So don’t say you miss me when you don’t call/ … Don’t say you love me unless you do”). “Messy” challenges a beau to accept her as she is, because she’s not going to pretend to be something she’s not: “I’ll tell you straight how I feel with no filter/ … Yeah, I can be messy, yeah, I admit it/No secrets here.”
Album opener “Down” (featuring rapper Gucci Mane) is a deeply problematic song. On it, the four remaining members of Fifth Harmony minimize being attracted to bad boy who, they admit, has a terrible reputation. “Nothin’ that a little love can’t fix.” Later, lyrics tell us that he’s the kind of guy they’d break the law to protect: “There ain’t no kind of situation/Where I wouldn’t cross a line for you/FBI interrogation/I would get up there and lie for you.” And the song’s chorus equates love with being held down, a phrase that’s never explained clearly: “Long as you’re holding me down, down, down/I’m gon’ keep lovin’ you down, down, down.” Later in the track, Gucci Mane objectifies a woman even more when he raps, “You make a man feel like you won a trophy.”
“He Like That” is all about sex: “Pumps and a bump, pumps and a bump/He like the girls with the pumps and a bump/ … He like that bang, bang, bang.” The song compares sex to drug use (“I’m like that drug, drug, drug/He trip when he on it, one taste and he want it”) and implies that a guy has a penchant for prostitutes (“He got a thing for them girls that make their money overnighting”). Still, the infatuation with yet another shady character is irresistible: “I know he bad for my health, but I still wanna try it.”
“Sauced Up” celebrates getting drunk and dismisses any concern about consequences: “We can get sauced up/Forever we’re young, we’ll never get old/ … I be like, ‘So what?'” The song also dismisses the idea that regret might come with the sunrise: “Blame it on drunk love/We can explain it all tomorrow.” More references to drinking and gambling (“Put your cards on the table/Keep it a hundred, baby, show me what you’re made of”) turn up in the last verse.
“Make You Mad” finds a woman wanting to make a lasting impression, sexually speaking (“I’m gonna make sure I’m the best you ever had”) and alludes to a booty call (“It’s in the night, I hear you call in the midnight hour/That’s when I come alive”).
“Deliver” embraces more self-objectification: “I can overnight this body if that’s what you need/ … Yeah, my baby knows that I deliver/ … I’ll give you something that you wanna unpack.” “Angel” brags about not being one of those heavenly beings. There’s a vague reference to being in “handcuffs” (and it’s unclear whether it’s an S&M allusion or a reference to being arrested). Other lyrics allude to dancing like a stripper, and we hear four f-words as well.
On “Lonely Night,” a woman tells a guy, “get ya’ s— together” four times.
Back in 2016, I described Fifth Harmony’s second album, 7/27, as one that “veers wildly between healthy, empowering messages and sexualizing, self-objectifying ones.”
The only difference this time around is that empowering messages here are fewer while the sexualizing, self-objectifying kind are more frequent. The band also glorifies reckless behavior while laughing off the suggestion that unwise choices might lead to unwanted consequences later on.
In the end, this album’s isolated upbeat moments hardly serve as an effective antidote to the toxic ones that lace the majority of the tracks on Fifth Harmony—especially for young fans of this influential band.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.